Selwood’s ancient tree heritage
Why are ancient trees important?
In many parts of Britain, the deep history of its people can be read through the old trees in the landscape. The oldest of trees, ancient yews – found in churchyards and on exposed cliff faces are great symbols of culture, going back thousands of years. A millennium ago, ancient oaks and sweet chestnuts were the trademark of the Christian abbeys and Norman conquerors. And throughout living history, the working tree of the British countryside – old pollards – fed and cured the ailments of stock and provided wood for the hearth or timbers for farm buildings.
From once having key roles in everyday life through religion, farming or homemaking, these historic trees have new significance. They now host countless species of wildlife that cannot exist on younger trees, and display historic features that are only just now revealing to us their unique stories of our past.
Old and working trees once filled the landscape in wood pastures and moorland edge, fields and hedges, parkland and orchards. Although now rare, Britain is especially rich in ancient trees in comparison with most other countries in Europe. Their long lives prove their resilience but trees need to be as healthy as possible to face new and exceptional challenges from pests, diseases and climate extremes.
The case studies on this website confirm that people living in Selwood care about their old trees and want to share this unique heritage with those around them and pass it on to their descendants.
We should all care because these trees have given their benefits to us every day of their long lives – making soils healthy, sheltering stock from sun and snow, cleaning and refreshing the air we breathe. They make our landscapes beautiful and full of fascination. They help us chart the seasons of the year.
If they are to work for us in new ways, by attracting tourists and bringing in income, then everyone needs to be aware of their value and give trees what they need: space for sunlight, healthy soils, adequate root protection and thoughtful pruning when required. Protecting our history will help provide for our future.
By Jill Butler